Quick Hits and Weekend Reads on our post-Priebus Friday

reince-scaramucci

Reince just lost a turf battle to this guy. Good for him- he deserves it.

1) Man, I don’t even know what to talk about this week. Let’s talk about Reince, who was just pushed out after losing a turf battle with the human incarnation of an $8 tip on a $400 bill.

I remember when Reince was first elected the chairman of the GOP in 2011, because it seemed impossible that he was real. He won by bragging that he owned eight guns, or at least that’s all I remembered beside the name. He was a weakling and a sniveling toady, the perfect embodiment of modern Wisconsin, a Kenosha kid who took it upon himself to make the lives of those he grew up around harder. With Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, he helped ruin a good state.

His legacy is presiding over the GOP as it tipped from gibbering into full madness, as he helped stoke powerful forces of anger and atavism, failed to stand up to Trump, and then enabled his every idiocy. No sympathy for the petty manner of his dismissal or his loss to a guy who thinks that calling the New Yorker means the assumption of off-the-record. He’s a terrible person who deserves fully every humiliation.

This is nice, though. Wikipedia is cold, man. This was up like 45 seconds after the news broke.

wiki

2) That reminds me: we started this week mostly talking about Jeff Sessions. Remember that? How Trump was pushing him out? (Can you believe the Mooch interview came out like 25 hours ago?)  There’s been some sympathy for Sessions because Trump has treated him so poorly, but remember that Jeff Session deserves much, much worse.

That’s the one nice thing about Trump ritually humiliating and abusing everyone around him. Choosing to be around Trump is proof that you are an asshole, and deserve to be ritually abused and humiliated. I can’t wait for it to happen to Mooch.

3) This week, we talked about the tragedy of Cairo, Illinois. I was honored to be linked by Avram Grynszpan at Ruminations in an Emergency (great name), who has been doing great work on Cairo. For more background on what is happening there, and why, please head on over to his joint. He is also more action-oriented on what we can to to help Cairo. The whole blog is really interesting, so make it a destination.

GOOD READS FOR THE WEEKEND

Image result for quiet library

Nah, go nuts

Looking for a few reads? Well, here you go.

  • If you like baseball, here’s a cool and fun Deadspin article on players who have had two separate Hall of Fame careers, by WAR. That is to say, if you took like their first ten years and second ten years, both would be HoF worthy, or at least in consideration. I think most people would be surprised to see Alex Rodriguez on here, though you shouldn’t be. He was so good and none of you cared. It’s also fun to remember how great Rickey Henderson was, and gape in awe again at Babe Ruth.
  • Less fun, but super important: Katherine Zimmerman at Critical Threats (An AEI joint, showing my political ecumenicism) has an excellent report, originally published in a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on how al-Qaeda is strengthening by consistently adapting its approach and methods while still focusing on the primary goals. They are still thinking long-term, whereas ISIS thinks short (a position with which this blog is sympathetic). She wants US policy-makers to understand this persistent and pervasive threat, as well as the threat of Salafi-jihadism, which as she says “predates” either group and “will generate another transnational organization if they are defeated.”  It’s a good global look at the movement, and while I would be interested to see how she thinks ISIS impacted AQ (even just by altering the landscape of the ideas of its recruits), it is a sober and thoughtful and comprehensive report.
  • Timothy Garton-Ash, that great observer of political change in Europe, is strangely optimistic about the Anglo-American world’s ability to rebound from the intertwined Trump/Brexit madness. Well, at least, he sees it as a possible future, which is better than me on most days. He also produces a great line: “The transcript of Trump’s recent interview with the “failing” New York Times reveals the egocentric, superficial stream-of-consciousness disorder of his mind: Leopold Bloom meets the National Enquirer.”
  • A video! This isn’t reading at all! Looks like old man O’Neill is pivoting to the future! Don’t get too excited, because this is about parking, or rather, the madness of how we’ve designed cities around parking and minimum requirements. It doesn’t get into how the auto industry influenced these decisions, which meant that our towns are unwalkable, but that short-sightedness is demonstrated. This is a minor obsession around here, and this short video is a great introduction to the issue. It seems obscure, but it gets to the heart of how we live and interact with our lived environment. And the expert in it is awesome.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Let’s see if we can get through a weekend without a disaster.

Advertisements

Utilities in Cairo Illinois: The Price of History

Image result for cairo il

Cairo Illinois, at the tip of the state where it flows into Kentucky, is where the Ohio and the Mississippi flow into each other, where two great river systems crashing their way through America join the east and the Midwest on the way to the Gulf. It a slow, languid area, more deep south than Midwest, a strange humid little pocket in a state dominated by farm concerns and the bulk of Chicago.

Cairo (pronounced Kay-Row) is far from Chicago, a northern Great Lakes city born of industry. Cairo is, and always has been, a river town, a transit point. It’s proximity to great shipping areas should make it wealthy, or at least well off. Or at the very least, alive. But Cairo isn’t. It is grasping and almost dead, with over 100 years of racial violence, mismanagement, and neglect having brought it low. It’s few thousand remaining residents are battered by greed, oversight, and disinterest.

And, because this is America, race. It has been tortured by the violence of our endemic, perhaps inherent, racism. And it remains that way. Race, and the long tendrils of history, have choked the life out of Cairo, leaving it a broken city, filled with paranoia and injustice. One symptom of that is incredibly high utility prices. This seems minor, or at least explicable, but understanding why is key to the whole thing.

If you want to understand this, you have to read this incredible series in The Southern Illinoisian by Molly Parker and Issac Smith. A 7-part series published this week titled “Why Are Electric Rates in Cairo So High?”, it seems like a simple question, or like a weird little quirky thing. But it isn’t. It is a complex and terrible story, and Parker and Smith truly dig into it, in some of the finest journalism I’ve read in a long time. It shows just how much history and modernity have conspired to make life in Cairo increasingly difficult.

You should really read it, but it comes down to simple math: the poorest people in the state are being charged the most for electricity.

Continue reading

The Coming Assaults on the Environment

Image result for but her emails

The Russia investigations are a grand opera, and there is a strand of thinking among the clever set that it is a Distraction from the real evil of the Trump campaign. To that, as part of the meta-clever set (and we’re just as irritating), I say: very true! But also: nonsense.

It’s nonsense because the Grand Guignol corruption, of which the Russia element is a key part, is a direct threat to our democracy.  That this is making an already deeply-ignorant and hair-trigger dumb President even more unhinged is an enormous issue. Trump’s respect for the mechanisms of our republic are already paper-thin, if that (witness the CinC telling active-duty service members to call their Congressmen in support of GOP policies); if he feels his misdeeds threaten his power, who knows what he’ll do. To say this is a distraction is to say an earthquake is a distraction from your looming heart attack. Both things are bad!

Because, yes: we do get distracted from the day-to-day awfulness of this administration, and the GOP in general. Perhaps the longest-lasting impact will be on the environment, or what is left of it.

Regulations Are For Chumps

 

Mulvaney: As you can see, freedom is dead. 

 

Last week the WaPo did a deep dive on the administration’s dismantling of the regulatory state. This has little to do with Trump, except for his self-sworn and entirely self-centered belief that businesspeople (businessmen, really) would do great if they were just left alone, because they are geniuses and don’t need any interference or help from Uncle Sucker, except when it comes to bankruptcy protection. And patent protection. And the police that protect the interests of the monied class. But still.

It’s mostly gnome-standard GOP stuff above and beyond Trump. The stated philosophy is to unleash the power of the market. The sub-philosophy is that government has no role and that any regulation is bad. The underlying idea is that there is no common good and the rich should be able to plunder.  That’s why they want to dismantle any worker and environmental protections.

We can argue about which regulations are needed and which go too far. We can argue about the role of government. But they truly believe there is no role. And they believe that because workers and the environment are the fodder of capital for other people. They go in, get churned up, and money comes out and into the pockets of the rich.

Congress Takes on Pipelines and Conduits, With Expected Results

Congress is involved too. Last week, a couple of bills passed the House and were sent on to the Senate.

One, HR 2786 seems noncontroversial (and indeed was almost unanimously passed). This makes it easier to build hydroelectric conduits. The good people at Circle of Blue, who flagged both of these bills, explain.

The bill amends the Federal Power Act to encourage the development of small hydropower projects. Currently, a hydropower project installed in a conduit — a pipeline or canal, generally — is exempt from the licensing process if it is less than five megawatts. The bill eliminates the five-megawatt cap. The bill also shortens the time frame for issuing a licensing exemption from 45 days to 30 days. There have been no national assessments of hydropower potential from adding turbines to conduits, but it is assumed to be far less than adding turbines to dams without them. Conduit projects, however, can have significant local benefits.

I admit I don’t know much about this. This might be very needed, and very good. It might be completely insignificant. But it is part and parcel of a desire to step back, to regulate less, to have less interference by experts. Maybe it will turn out great. But when we mess with water, when we alter it, it has a way of coming back to bite us. Dams break down. Cities flood. I think, as we enter an era of water instability, we shouldn’t make moves that make it easier to tamper with the flow.

The second one is less ambiguous and more immediately insidious. H.R.2883 is known as the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, so you know it is going to suck. And it is a doozy.

This bill prohibits any person from constructing, connecting, operating, or maintaining a border-crossing facility for the import or export of oil, natural gas, or electricity across an international border of the United States without obtaining a certificate of crossing.

Great! Totally approve. Seems uncontroversial so far. Who wants Canadian companies to lay pipelines willy-nilly?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with respect to oil or natural gas pipelines, or the Department of Energy (DOE), with respect to electric transmission facilities, must issue a certificate of crossing for the border-crossing facility within 120 days after final action is taken under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, unless it is not in the public interest.

120 days doesn’t really seem like a lot, to me. These are huge, often continent-spanning pipelines. The impact they have on natural resources is enormous and hard to judge. I don’t think I like this.

No presidential permit as required under specified executive orders shall be necessary for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of an oil or natural gas pipeline or electric transmission facility, including any border-crossing facility.

This is where the bill really kicks in. While this seems like it is taking away power from Trump, what it is really doing is taking these enormously impactful pipelines out of the realm of public dispute and accountability. It is depoliticizing them in the truest and worst sense. The decision, say, to let bitumen in leaky pipes flow under the Great Lakes will be shunted off to a bureaucracy.

While you could say: good! Let the experts decide without political considerations, what this is really doing is making sure that the decisions are made without scrutiny, and without the negative political ramifications that come with posioning the aquifers. And this isn’t a coincidence. They want this bill passed so that the decisions ultimately are in the hands of this guy.

 

Image result for rick perry gun

I know he’s like the least-objectionable person in the admin. He’s still really objectionable. 

 

Rick Perry believes very strongly in pipelines and in “energy independence”. He believes not very strongly in climate science or environmentalism. This bill is a way to greenlight the pumping of Canadian posion into America.

WHAT TO DO?

Call your Senators. Tell them you oppose HR 2883, because you think decisions that can impact the water we drink and the land we farm on should be decided in the open, and not by unelected bureaucrats. It’s ok that it seems hypocritical. They’re being hypocrites about it, and we’re in the right on this one. Call often.

This is a bill that can be easily overlooked thanks to the “distractions”. Which means it is one that a concerted effort can stop. If not, the whole issue of pipelines in this country will be altered, and citizens will have nearly no say in what happens to our land. Which, again, is just the way they want it.

 

With Trump’s Pardon Inquiry and Mueller Investigation, We’ve Entered The “Not Even Pretending” Portion of the Show

OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.

Good? Now peep these headlines.

NYTimesTrump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation

Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?

Continue reading

Some Good News About Asian Carp…For Now (Or: Why Trump’s Budget Ruins Everything)

In this 2012 photo, an Asian carp, jolted by an electric current from a research boat, jumps from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill., during a study on the fish’s population.

So, the Great Lakes actually got some good news this week, when it turned out that the canal leading up to Lake Michigan was free of Asian Carp. There had been a two-week monitoring of the area following the discovery of a carp in the Calumet River.

This is good news because if the Asian Carp get into the lake, they’ll be able to get into all the Great Lakes. They have no natural predators around here, and are expected to be able to out-compete local species for food and resources. They could potentially change the entire ecosystem of the lake, ruining commerical fishing (there isn’t much of a market for them right now), and having huge repercussions both environmentally and economically.

If you aren’t familiar, these are big suckers that jump out of the water when they hear a baot, and can do serious damage to boats and people. They fly around and can break your nose. They hurt when they hit you.

They were brought to America for fish farms, but then during a flood escaped into a river, and have worked their way up. Parts of the Illinois, for example, are completely choked with these monsters. Check this out.

It’s super unpleasant. Even if you don’t care about the ecological ramifications of them dominating the Great Lakes (and you should, what’s wrong with you?) just imagine the havoc it will wreak on boating, on the lakes and their tributaries. It’s a nightmare.

That’s why the US has spent a lot of money to keep them out of the Great Lakes, especially on the the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Calumet River. and the Sanitary and Ship Canal, where there is an electronic fence south of the city. And everyone agrees that’s a good thing. Who could be against it?

Oh, for the love of god

The alarming discovery of an 8-pound, 28-inch adult silver carp comes as President Donald Trump is proposing a federal budget that would gut funding for efforts to block Asian carp and other invasive species from the world’s largest body of fresh surface water.

The Trump administration also has refused to release a government study on new proposals to prevent carp from moving upstream from the Illinois River, where the fish already have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem.

Seriously, what the hell? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of everything? How is it possible to be on the wrong side of this? If you had asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have even imagined there could be a wrong side. I didn’t think there was a pro-Asian-carp-in-the-Lakes contingency.  Especially not from someone so concerned about keeping America safe from foreigners!

But then, they manage to be on the wrong side of everything, especially when it comes to the Great Lakes. They are trying to gut the Great Lakes Research Initiative, even though it will hurt their white working class base the most.  They even manage to be against making sure ballast holds don’t bring any more invasive species, which is almost impressive. You think they spend their whole days on operatic evil like ending health care or suppressing the vote, but nope: they take time to block common-sense ballast measures.

There’s been some talk about closing the Sanitarity and Ship  Canal. As most of you know, these were built in order to use lake water to wash the filth of the city down the Des Plaines and Illinois toward the Mississippi, and on to St. Louis, which: haha, screw St. Louis. The great shipping and sanitation channels changed the flow of the water, an audacious move, and the biggest diversion in Great Lakes history (which now could be a casus belli). 

But it did more than that. It erased the divide between the Mississippi Basin and the Great Lakes Basin, which means that invasive species in Arkansas can make their way up the vast river system into the greatest body of freshwater in the world. That’s why some people are advocating closing them down.

It’s an equally audacious plan, to be sure, and I doubt it will ever happen. But that’s the kind of big thinking that is needed to prevent a catastrophe. And that is what makes it equally catastrophic that we are being led by the smallest thinkers in the world, a whole party of petty, short-sighted, gleefully-destructive fools who inevitably take the most destructive possible course on every issue.

Protecting the Great Lakes smacks of environmentalism, and so they won’t do it. It’s pure nihilism. May they all be forced to paddleboard through a swarm of madly agitated carp.

Water Diversions and War

 

Image result for fury road water

Spring Break, 2030! 

 

Here’s the term you are going to need to know in the next part of your life and the life of the planet: hydro-political strife. From Science Daily. 

More than 1,400 new dams or water diversion projects are planned or already under construction and many of them are on rivers flowing through multiple nations, fueling the potential for increased water conflict between some countries.

A new analysis commissioned by the United Nations uses a comprehensive combination of social, economic, political and environmental factors to identify areas around the world most at-risk for “hydro-political” strife. This river basins study was part of the U.N.’s Transboundary Waters Assessment Program.

Researchers from the United States, Spain and Chile took part in the analysis, which has been recommended by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe as an indicator for the U.N.’s sustainable development goals for water cooperation.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Global Environment Change.

The analysis suggests that risks for conflict are projected to increase over the next 15 to 30 years in four hotspot regions — the Middle East, central Asia, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and the Orange and Limpopo basins in southern Africa.

Whomever controls the water has enormous power over their neighbors. It’s a pretty terrifying situation when you think about it: just because your weird and arbitrary border has a river in it, you get to control the lives of people across that line? You can divert it, shunt it, dam it and drain it?

But really, that’s the way it always has been. America, of course, has its fair share of problems with that, like how we pretty much shut off the Colorado from Mexico (a situation that has been slowly and promisingly remediated, though no one knows what a Trump presidency will do to it).

That’s the way it has always been, sure, with resources being the reason for and tool of war, but that doesn’t mean we’re not entering scary new times. There are more people and less water. Climate change is going to be scything across the globe like a whirlwinded Queen of Hearts. Resources will be hoarded and dams will lead to war. An irrigation ditch can be a casus belli. We all know that in the 21st-century, water is war. But I don’t think people recognize just how hair-trigger and volatile it is going to be.

Think of how complex the Waukesha Diversion was. And how peaceful it was. Now imagine how difficult and fraught diversion negotiations will be when it is the life and death of a nation at stake. Think of how easy it will be to boil over into violence. Think of how that has happened in America’s past. That’s tomorrow’s world. Unless we actually come up with a legitimate mechanism for handling these situations, which means a de facto dissolving of some measures of national sovereignty, there is no chance.

 

Malorossiya: Ukrainian Separatism, Mapmaking, and The Continued Restlessness of History

 

Image result for Malorossiya

This seems optimistic, to me

 

Dateline, Donetsk:

Separatists in eastern Ukraine have proclaimed a new state in the territories they control.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting after Russian-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in April 2014.

Ukraine signed a ceasefire deal with the separatists in 2015, which provided for a gradual return of the areas into Kiev’s fold while giving them some autonomy, but the agreement was never fully implemented.

Donetsk News Agency has quoted separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenkoas saying that the rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk would form a state called Malorossiya.

Zakharchenko is calling for a three-year transition period in which to establish his new state, which will encompass not just the land annexed by Russia, but all territory that is Russian-leaning, including a great swath of the breadbasket between the Dniester and the Dnieper.

That seems ambitious, and it seems that our man in Donetsk Zakharchenko might have gotten a little ahead of his skis on this one.

Sputnik International has quotes from less-than-thrilled Russians on this, because of course it does.

“This is an unexpected initiative, and from my point of view, it diverges from the general line of actions prescribed by the Minsk agreements… The solution of the problems of Donbass, which have accumulated and are often urgent, has been initially and continues to be within the Minsk process agreed by all sides, and not within the unilateral initiatives announced today,” (Chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin) Kosachev said.

It makes sense why Russia wouldn’t be terribly happy about this. After all, the Minsk agreements muddle through the question of Crimea, since no one really seems to know how to make Russia leave. And continued unrest in the east works out well, since it leaves a divided and distracted Ukraine, one in which Russia has a lot of power.

It stands to some reason that Russia would have a lot of influence in the new Malorossiya, obviously. Their interference is what led to the schism, and they have been supporting the rebels. And the schism was even possible because Ukraine’s east historcially leans toward Russia. The fact that they have Russia in their name seems a good clue too, as does the proposal of unity between them, Russia, and Belorussia.

But that doesn’t always work out, as Russia knows. Belarus, under the never-dying Bond villain Lukashenko, has started to make overtures toward the west. For a long time he held out hope of a political union with Russia where he became the boss, but realizing that wasn’t happening, and realizing he could maybe play both sides, he has started teasing Putin with thoughts of Western alliances.

Now, Lukashenko is an annoyance to Putin, not a threat, but it goes to show you that life is pretty unpredictable. So there is no way of telling what can happen in a new independent state. What is conveniently violent and unsettled now might soon be settled, peaceful, and demanding respect.

And really, the whole thing seems kind of silly on its face, like a flighty rebel dream. “Soon, we’ll have all the Ukraine!” But really, there’s no reason for this to be absurd.

All of Eastern Europe is unsettled. The current map has only been in place for a decade, and a map from 1991 would be out of date in 1996, just as a map from 1989 would be irrelevant a couple of years later. It wasn’t just Eastern, Mitteleurope and the West (depending on where you define Germany) were shook by the beautiful cataclysms of 89.

But it is the east where the map has been going nuts since the Ottoman Empire started to dissolve, the Balkan Wars shattered the peace, and the late-era dominance of Austro-Hungary, and of course the empire-shattering WWI really made things impossible to follow. New countries were created (Yugoslavia, short-lived, and then long-lived, and then destroyed), old ideas were made real (Poland, also sort of short-lived, and then enslaved by the Soviets), and disparate lands coalesced only to be swallowed (the Ukraine).

 

Not pictured: pretty much everything

 

So what we know of the map is, at best, 100 years old, and even that not really. There’s no reason why Ukraine can’t be divided up, at least no historic reason. There are political and economic and maybe moral reasons why it shouldn’t, but just because we’ve come of age in a time where the Ukraine was a real, unified, independent state encompassing those exact post-Soviet borders, including Crimea, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be.

History doesn’t work that way. We thought we were in a freeze, and that the world was permanent. Which is weird: no one ever thought that maps couldn’t change. I know the Cold War had a weird feeling of never-endingness to it, but then the maps changed enormously over the next few decades. Yet we act as if what the world is at the moment is the way it is now and shall always be. We base our politics around it. We base our emotional maps around it, and react violently if there is a disruption.

This isn’t me being a Malorossiyan nationalist or anything. It’s not a good idea, for a number of reasons. But I think it is dangerous when we scoff at the idea of changing national borders. Borders are artificial. What’s more, they are new.  The problem is that the passions contained within those borders, and stoked partly because of those borders, are real. Even if they are manipulated they are real.

That’s the challenge of the 21st century. How do we handle the nation-state when transnational identity is so strong for so many but intense, smaller nationalisms are strong for an equal amount, in reaction to the first group? I don’t have any answers, but if we think the globe spinning in our office is the gospel, and any deviation is the ravings of heresiarchs, we have no chance of meeting the danger.